PAC 12 WOMEN
- When: Wednesday, February 25th to Saturday, February 28th
- Where: Weyerhaeuser King County Aquatic Center, Federal Way, WA (Pacific Time Zone)
- Defending Champion: California Golden Bears
- Live Results: here
- Live Video: Will post when available
- Championship Central: here
After Stanford won the Pac 12 conference championships in 2013 to end a four-year Cal run, the Golden Bears took back their crown in 2014, winning by almost 200 points over the Cardinal. However, it was Felicia Lee, Maya Dirado, and the rest of Stanford’s talented squad that finished 2nd, ahead of 3rd place Cal, at the 2014 NCAA Championships.
The timely arrival of freshman Cierra Runge has given the Golden Bears the distance speed that is pretty hard to find across the Pac 12 in general. She has big NCAA scoring potential in the 500 and 1650 free, and her 4:34.81 in the former from the Georgia Invite would have beaten Missy Franklin‘s winning conference time from last year. Not only does she extend Cal’s freestyle arsenal to the distance ranges, but her power in the 500 specifically will allow for Franklin to drop the event and take on the 200 IM, where she is currently ranked 2nd in the country (1:52.99) behind only fellow Golden Bear Elizabeth Pelton (1:52.93). Cal has also seen impressive performances from sprinter Farida Osman and freshman butterflier Noemie Thomas, plus they have a gauntlet of backstrokers (but that’s not new, is it?).
What Cal does lack, however, is a game-changing breaststroker. Stanford happens to have three of them. Senior Katie Olsen, junior Sarah Haase, and freshman Heidi Poppe are each incredibly talented and have a great shot at going 1-2-3 in the 100 breast. Poppe’s 59.21 and Haase’s 59.31 from the Art Adamson Invitational are Pac-12 leading times this season, plus Olsen was a 59.17 last year to win the conference title. Olsen also won the 200 breast last year (2:08.39), and Poppe and Haase each boast best times in the 2:11 range, making them strong candidates for making championship finals themselves. Cal’s Marina Garcia has been a little more impressive this season than last year, but freshman Maija Roses has yet to break out in yards since she won the 2013 US Jr National title in the 100m breast.
Stanford also happens to have someone by the name of Simone Manuel, the first woman to ever split under 46 seconds on a relay, who has set plenty of NAG as well as American records in her quick rise to one of USA swimming’s sprint elite. Cal’s got some fast sprinters, including Franklin, but they will be hard-pressed to match up with Manuel (especially in the 50). Dirado leaves a big IM hole for the Cardinal, but the combination of stellar freshman Janet Hu, Lindsey Engel, and Ally Howe will more than make up for the lost back/fly efforts from Felicia Lee. Stanford’s freestyle depth contracts the further the race, though, and Cal is far too dominant in the IM and backstroke for Stanford to be considered a favorite to win the Pac 12 this year. In addition, although Stanford has a shockingly good sprint group, they did lose Maddy Schaefer from what was an invincible sprint group.
The USC Trojans, third last year, will definitely miss their seniors from last year. Kasey Carlson was a dynamic sprinter who was lights out as their medley breaststroker and put up huge points for the Trojans at the conference and national level, while Stina Gardell A-finaled in the 200 and 400 IM as well as the 200 breast, grabbing NCAA ‘A’ cuts herself in both IM events. Megan Hawthorne was also a very strong IMer, although this year, Andrea Kropp has stepped up and put forth the 4th best time in the Pac 12 so far. Kropp will be the Trojans’ breaststroker this year, and Hannah Weiss‘s addition will be big for USC. Weiss is a great backstroker, the best in the 100 for the Trojans this far, and will allow for Kendyl Stewart to stick to fly on the medley relays. Stewart, who won the national title in the 100 fly this past summer and grabbed bronze in the same event at the Pan Pacific Championships, will lead the Trojans this year, along with sophomore freestyler Chelsea Chenault and versatile junior Jasmine Tosky.
Arizona will go head-to-head with USC as they look to crack the top 3 this year. Breaststrokers Sara Borendame and Emma Schoettmer will match up well with Kropp, and while the Trojans have strong medley relays, the Wildcats will be right with them in the free relays. Stewart will be untouchable in the fly, and the Wildcats have a big hole in their IM group, but Bonnie Brandon and Tjasa Oder will provide a big distance boost, while Brandon will tear it up in the 200 back as well. Arizona’s lost three bona fide sprinters in Margo Geer, Alana Pazevic, and Gracie Finnegan, but the Wildcats will put up a fight to try to overtake the Trojans.
Other names to look out for are Linnea Mack (UCLA) and Jorie Caneta (Arizona State). Mack, a sophomore, had a strong season last year, but has had quite a breakout winter. At Winter Nationals in December, she threw down lifetime bests in the 50 and 100 free as well as the 100 fly and 100 back. She’d be a pretty good bet to A final in any of the aforementioned races, and her 22.03 in the 50 free is 2nd to only Manuel. She’s also the fastest 100 backstroker (51.98) in the conference aside from the four Cal backstrokers (Rachel Bootsma, Pelton, Franklin, Melanie Klaren). Caneta, a breaststroker, hit personal bests in the 100 and 200 at the Art Adamson Invitational, and is ranked within the top 10 in both events in the Pac-12. She may not be in the top 3 mix in either this year, but the Sun Devil may develop into an elite breaststroke force as her collegiate career progresses. Both Mack and Caneta have talented teams surrounding them and should be fun to watch this year as well as in the coming years.
200 Medley Relay
800 Freestyle Relay
200 Individual Medley
200 Freestyle Relay
400 Individual Medley
400 Medley Relay
400 Freestyle Relay
Arizona – Bonnie Brandon (junior distance freestyler/backstroker), Sara Borendame (sophomore breaststroker), Taylor Schick (senior sprinter), Emma Schoettmer (junior breaststroker), Tjasa Oder (sophomore distance freestyler) — Borendame and Schoettmer are the best breaststroke duo in the conference save for Stanford’s trio, which gives the Wildcats options for medley relays. Brandon and Oder are easily the best distance pair in the conference, and the Wildcats flexed their sprint muscles with weapons like senior Taylor Schick and freshman Paige Kremer against ASU on their senior day. They should have solid relays from the 200 through the 800.
Arizona State – Jorie Caneta (freshman breaststroker), Kat Simonovic (sophomore freestyler), Melanie Busch (senior sprinter), Tory Houston (senior breaststroker), Ingibjorg Jonsdottir (sophomore backstroker) — This is an impressive group with lots of young talent who swam incredibly well against a stacked Arizona team in a recent dual. Caneta and Houston are a great breaststroking pair, and the Sun Devils have the speed to put together some fast sprint relays.
UCLA – Linnea Mack (sophomore sprinter), Madison White (sophomore backstroker), Katy Campbell (junior distance freestyler), Noelle Tarazona (senior butterflier), Maria Polyakova (freshman diver) — Linnea Mack is a breakout star, and we could definitely see her drop a flat-start 21 in the 50 free. Katy Campbell is having a solid year, while freshman diver Polyakova from Russia has already won a couple Fina Junior Worlds medals and will look to make big contributions herself.
USC – Kendyl Stewart (junior butterflier), Haley Ishimatsu (senior diver), Andrea Kropp (senior breaststroker/IMer), Hannah Weiss (freshman backstroker), Chelsea Chenault (sophomore freestyler), Jasmine Tosky (junior everything) — The Trojans are feeling the loss of sprinter Kasey Carlson and versatile IMers Megan Hawthorne and Stina Gardell, but Kropp has had a very strong season in breast and IM and it doesn’t hurt to have the defending long course national champion in the 100 fly in Kendyl Stewart. Ishimatsu was the best platform diver in the country last year, and Tosky can swim any stroke for the Trojans. Hannah Weiss solves their backstroke problem, Chenault looks ready to tear it up in distance free, and sprinters Kasia Wilk and Evan Swenson both put up sub-22 relay splits last year. Don’t count out USC just yet.
Cal – Missy Franklin (sophomore everything), Elizabeth Pelton (junior everything), Farida Osman (sophomore sprinter), Cierra Runge (freshman distance freestyler), Noemie Thomas (freshman butterflier), Rachel Bootsma (junior butterflier/backstroker) — It’s incredibly difficult to pick just a few stars from this unbelievably stacked roster, but these six are the real deal. All have plenty of international experience, and, fun fact, Franklin happens to be the world record holder in the 200m back as well as the defending Olympic champion in the 100m and 200m back. Pelton might have been overshadowed by Franklin in recent years, but her IM is getting ridiculously fast and it’s a toss up between the two in the 200 IM this year. Runge has also spent her time in the shadow of Katie Ledecky, but breaking 4:05 in the 400m free for any female swimmer is pretty darn impressive. Thomas and Bootsma can each win an event of their own, and Osman is a relay stud who also will go to battle with Kendyl Stewart in the 100 fly. Despite missing breaststroke depth, the Bears are looking pretty Golden this year.
Stanford – Simone Manuel (freshman sprinter), Janet Hu (freshman sprinter), Heidi Poppe (freshman breaststroker), Katie Olsen (senior breaststroker), Lia Neal (sophomore freestyler), Sarah Haase (junior breaststroker) — Stanford has the best breaststroke group in the country, hands down, and they have the ultimate sprint weapon in Manuel. Despite losing Schaefer, freshman Janet Hu has been under 22 flat start before, which is huge considering they already have Manuel. The Cardinal also has Olympian Lia Neal, plus the backstroke/butterfly combo between freshmen Hu, Ally Howe, and Lindsey Engel gives them plenty of medley relay options. The big question is whether or not Hu/Howe can possibly match the Cal backstroke gauntlet, and how their relays will match up against the Golden Bears.
Oregon State – Sammy Harrison (junior distance freestyler), Czsarina Isleta (sophomore breaststroker) — Sammy Harrison is a distance star, wowing the conference with a 1650 free title last year, setting program records in that event as well as the 500 free and qualifying for NCAAs in both events. Her mile title was the first Pac-12 title in OSU history, but she will have to fight with the likes of Brandon, Oder and Runge to repeat as champion. Isleta is a strong breaststroker with potential to make consolation finals in the 200.
Washington State – Loree Olson (junior IMer/backstroker), Anna Brolin (freshman butterflier), Nicole Proulx (senior freestyler), Kendra Griffin (sophomore distance freestyler/butterflier) — The Cougars have some B final contenders, and it will be interesting to see how freshman Brolin will impact the program.
Utah – Stina Colleou (sophomore breaststroker), Maddie Jamora (junior sprinter), Maddie Meisel (freshman distance freestyler), Giuliana Gigliotti (senior sprinter) — Colleou is an elite breaststroker who has potential to contend with the best in the conference as the 5th ranked 200 breaststroker. Jamora is very good in the 50, while Gigliotti can extend her range to the 200 free, and the freshman Meisel is having a great collegiate debut, posting the 6th fastest time in the mile in the conference. The Utes have a solid sprint core, which means they can put up some solid sprint relays, too.
200 INDIVIDUAL MEDLEY
This will be the first of two (or three?) possible juggernaut matches between Missy Franklin and Elizabeth Pelton. Luckily for us viewers, Franklin and Pelton both swimming this race is almost certain, seeing as Franklin didn’t swim the 500 free at the Georgia Invite and Pelton’s always competed in this. The two touched the wall virtually in-sync at the Georgia Invite, first Pelton (1:52.93), then Franklin (1:52.99). Best times for both women. This certainly hasn’t been a race of focus for Franklin on the national and international stage, but to get under 1:53 in the IM regardless of one’s expertise tells us she’s got what it takes for conference and national titles here. Cal’s Celina Li was 2nd last year to Maya Dirado, and she should put down a big swim as well for what may well be a 1-2-3 Golden Bear sweep.
The Stanford breaststroke trio look the strongest to contend for the 100 breast title, but not by much. Olsen won it last year in 59.17, but Poppe (59.21) and Haase (59.31) sit atop the conference so far this year, although they are not the only ones crashing through the minute barrier. Andrea Kropp (59.60) and Allison Wine (59.70) of UCLA squared off for personal bests in the USC-UCLA dual, while Sara Borendame of Arizona has also broken a minute this season (59.97). Borendame’s training partner Emma Schoettmer and ASU freshman Jorie Caneta have each been under 1:01 and can’t be ignored, either.
Runge and Franklin will likely spearhead the Cal 200 free group, and seeing as the 100 back is only one event away from the 200, I’d be surprised if the American Record holder would drop her 200 free for the 100 back. With Runge (along with Camille Cheng, Caroline Piehl, and Rachael Acker) in the 200, though, Pelton could join Bootsma and Melanie Klaren in a fierce battle in the 100 back. Also in the mix will be Linnea Mack, who is a bit better in the back than in the fly. Mack is one of only two non-Cal swimmer in the conference to go under 52 this season in the 100 back, and might be the best bet at taking down one (or more?) of the Golden Bears. The other sub-52 backstroker is USC freshman Weiss, who (suited) went a 51.92 in a dual meet against UCLA and nearly broke her personal record.
Missy has been swimming a lot more backstroke this season, and while she won the 100 free last year and left the 200 back to Pelton, Manuel might be too hard to beat in yards. Franklin has yet to break 47 seconds, and if she goes for the 200 back instead, it’d set up a rematch of epic proportions between Pelton and Franklin after they slog it out in the IM. Franklin has been as fast as 1:48.42 from 2013, but Pelton was 1:47.84 the same year. In long course, Franklin sits at 2:04.06, while Pelton has never broken 2:06. This year, Pelton holds the top time in the conference (1:49.00), while Franklin’s 1:49.23 sits 2nd, both times coming from the Georgia Invite. Pelton’s 1:47.84 is the NCAA and American Record. Franklin’s 2:04.06 is the World Record by a long shot. Hold on tight.
It wouldn’t be a Pac 12 Championships without some Bay Area relay showdowns. This year, it’s looking like each and every relay is going to be bananas. Stanford put down faster relays than Cal in each but the 800 free relay this season, but the two teams will step up where need be for some ultimate races. At the Stanford-Cal dual meet in Berkeley, the Golden Bears came away with the win, although the Cardinal did edge them in both (200 medley, 400 free) relays.
- 200 FREESTYLE RELAY – Manuel will beat any of Cal’s sprinters in a 50. It wouldn’t be surprising if she led off and still beat any of Cal’s sprinters with relay starts. Hu will be a 21 mid with a flying start, but Neal might not break 22 and they lost Schaefer, and replacements Engel or Ama probably won’t break 22. Bootsma and Bing have been under 22 with flying starts before, and Osman was a 21.49 anchoring this relay at the Georgia Invite. Too close to call.
- 400 FREESTYLE RELAY – Stanford has been a touch faster, but that was with Schaefer, although Manuel was above 46.0 anchoring. This could be a barn burner with Franklin and Manuel dueling as anchors at the end of the meet.
- 800 FREESTYLE RELAY – Cal is a pretty heavy favorite, although Manuel could have an insane swim, and should be a faster replacement for Dirado, the only member of Stanford’s 2013-14 relay to graduate.
- MEDLEY RELAYS – Bootsma will be out well ahead of Howe in the 200, but Cardinal breaststroker plus Hu versus Garcia and Thomas is going to be a huge swing in Stanford’s favor. Manuel should edge Osman if things get dicey. The 400 should be the same, although Cal’s lead after the backstroke will be considerably bigger than in the 200. What could make things interesting would be Garcia dropping under a minute on the breaststroke, and if Thomas can muster a sub-52 fly split (although it might be beneficial to switch Osman onto the fly leg here), it MIGHT give Franklin enough to escape Manuel. But Stanford’s definitely got the edge.
Stanford’s freshman class is the best in the country. Let’s be honest, a medley relay made up of Howe, Poppe, Hu and Manuel could win the Pac 12 Champs… and the scary (in a cool way) thing is that this could actually end up being one or both of their medley relays. The Cardinal is incredibly deep in breaststroke and sprint free, and their butterfly and backstrokers are dangerous (most of them freshmen, by the way). But while they will certainly outscore Cal in big ways in their strengths, the Golden Bears have them seriously beat in the IMs and any freestyle race above a 200. Stanford has the X factor in Manuel, but Cal has two in Franklin and Pelton. Cal definitely has a breaststroke problem (although Garcia is looking like she might actually make a run at the 200 breast title this year), but they have every other event covered, most notably so, the backstrokes, mid-distance frees, and IMs. Teri McKeever’s squad looks poised for another conference title to lead into a national title race with the likes of Georgia.
The Bay Area rivals are both way ahead of the rest of the conference, between multiple American record holders and Olympians and crazy depth in multiple events. The next question is, who comes after them? USC has always been right up there with them in recent years, but a new-look Arizona team looks primed for a third-place battle with the Trojans. The Wildcats have taken a big hit from last year’s graduations– Margo Geer, who was the 3rd fastest 100 yard freestyler in American history (before Simone Manuel and Abbey Weitzeil dropped their American record-breaking performances), along with Gracie Finnegan and Alana Pazevic, two relay studs and individual scorers. But this year, Bonnie Brandon has looked fierce, and distance free training partner Tjasa Oder has been right behind her. The Wildcats have the best non-Cardinal breaststroker pair in the conference in Bordename and Schoettmer, plus some very strong sprinters in freshman Paige Kremer and senior Taylor Schick.
The Trojans may not be quite as good as last year, but they are far from out of this third place race. They will have wicked medley relays again, and the combination of individual scorers Kendyl Stewart, Andrea Kropp, Chelsea Chenault, and Jasmine Tosky is very solid. Plus, the Trojans’ lackluster season best times in all of their relays (although their 200 medley was MOVIN’) this season have a catch: freestyle stalwart Chelsea Chenault was not on any of them. She’s been swimming well at the most recent, post-mid-season-invite duals, and provided she shows up and performs this weekend, she will significantly boost any of the relays (although Kasia Wilk is the best fit for 200 medley anchor). In addition, her individual scoring potential is going to be huge for them. After she dropped the nation-leading 9:33 in her 1000 free against UCLA, she could certainly extend her range to the 1650 and battle Runge, Brandon & company for the title. The Trojans also return national platform diving champion Haley Ishimatsu, who will score big points herself. USC is still a favorite for third, but Arizona will be right on their heels the entire meet.
Arizona State and UCLA both have strong core groups, and will put up multiple A and B finalists across the four days of competition. UCLA will have stronger medley relays indefinitely with a swimmer like Linnea Mack (who could honestly swim any leg save for the breast), plus her individual points will out-duel any individual performer from ASU, and the Bruins are ranked no lower than 5th in their three free relays. Madison White is looking like a potential A finalist in the 200 back, and same goes for Allison Wine in the 100 breast, while Katy Campbell gives them an edge over ASU, who will miss distance star Tristin Baxter. The Sun Devils still look good with freshman addition Jorie Caneta, and they will look to stay ahead of a solid Utah squad, led by sophomore breaststroker Stina Colleou and sprinters Giuliana Gigliotti and Maddie Jamora.
6. Arizona State
8. Washington State
9. Oregon State